Wednesday, 2 August 2023
Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023; Second Reading
In continuing my remarks with respect to this legislation, I will provide some context to the legislation that is before us. The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, otherwise known as the London convention, came into force on 30 August 1975. Eighty-seven states are parties to the convention, which is designed to ensure the protection of the marine environment from human activities. The London convention entered into force for Australia on 20 September 1985. The London convention ensures that a special permit is required prior to dumping certain materials, such as dredged material or man-made structures, at sea and a general permit is required for other wastes or matter.
The London protocol, which will eventually replace the London convention, and which currently has 53 parties signed up to it, came into force in Australia in 2006. The London protocol is more restrictive than the London convention and applies a precautionary approach. The protocol, through a permit system, may allow the dumping of certain materials, including carbon dioxide. In particular, the 2009 amendment permits the export of carbon dioxide streams from a contracting party to another country for the purpose of sequestration into sub-seabed geological formations as a climate change mitigation measure. At present, only 10 of the 53 contracting parties to the London protocol have ratified the 2009 amendment.
The Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water conducted an inquiry into amendments to the London protocol. Our report was handed in several weeks ago. Within that inquiry, we heard evidence that not all countries have access to suitable sub-seabed storage areas. To date, only six of the 53 contracting parties have ratified the 2013 amendments. Climate scientists tell us that we must reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming levels. Carbon capture and storage in sub-seabed geological formations is one of several means by which atmospheric carbon levels can be limited. The process can be difficult, and there are risks associated with it. We heard that from Geoscience Australia, who outlined a whole range of risks. Time doesn't permit me to go through the whole component of that, but there are risks associated with that, and we accept that.
However, with the right regulations and oversight, the risks can be managed. Again, we heard evidence of how that is being done in Europe right now, where there are some very clear protocols and guidelines as to how you can safely store carbon under seabed geological formations. Norway, which has been storing carbon in sub-seabeds on a commercial scale in the North Sea for over two decades, has an extensive record on this practice. Indeed my understanding is that it's being done pretty well over there. I'm not suggesting that there have never been problems, but I understand, again from the evidence that was provided to the committee, that it is being done effectively and indeed the more it's being done, the more they learn about how to do it even better.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in their submission to the committee's inquiry, in 2022 there were 30 operational carbon capture and storage projects globally, 11 under construction and 153 in development. That means that countries around the world are indeed looking at this as one of the ways to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. The fact that there are 153 projects in development around the world in addition to those that are already underway suggests to me that, whether we do it or not here in Australia, it is going to take place, and it will take place in other countries around the world. My view on that is that if it is going to take place in other countries, and we in Australia have some of the best and safest geological formations—again, according to the evidence that we received—then I would rather see it done under our regulations, our supervision and our oversight than see the carbon dioxide exported offshore to a country where I don't know whether they will have the same oversight as we would have here in Australia.
But it seems to me that this is a practice that is now being embraced globally. I quote directly from Geoscience Australia's submission to the committee:
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a mature technology with commercial-scale projects operating around the globe, both onshore and offshore. CCS is regarded by many, including—
And I stress this—including—
Geoscience Australia, for which I have a great deal of respect, having listened to presentations in the past, and which I think is one of the leading scientific organisations in the country, has made that statement. I've always come into this place with a view that we should always accept the advice of our best scientific organisations, just as we do on the very issue of climate change. However, as I said, because not all countries have suitable geological formations underground or under seabeds, storage has to be done on the basis that there will be occasions when transcontinental transfer of sequestered carbon needs to take place. Those countries that do not have those same opportunities should be able to go into a contract with a country that does in order to achieve their own carbon reduction goals.
The legislation before us makes the transfer of carbon possible when and only when it is safe to do so. In addition to the general provisions of this legislation, there is attached a process of regulation and oversight that I believe makes the storage of carbon underground a possibility. Indeed, the very provisions associated with this legislation—that is, the 2009 and 2013 amendments to the London protocol—are not simply words. Those amendments talk about the safety precautions that need to take place. If you adopt those amendments you adopt with them the safety that goes with the process.
I want to finish with this. There are already considerable amounts of carbon captured and stored underground and under seabeds in the form of coal, oil and gas. It's already there. Returning human-produced carbon dioxide back to where it effectively came from, if done safely, in scientifically proven locations, seems to be a fairly sensible thing to do. I am committed, and I know the Albanese Labor government is committed, to responsible but real action on climate change. Labor accepts the climate science. We did so when we came into office back in 2007 and are now doing it again under the Albanese Labor government.
We understand the global risks we face. We know that Australia must act in concert with other nations. We understand that in the real world that we live in, including here in Australia, most people still drive petrol cars and rely on coal and gas for their energy. We cannot change that overnight. It is as simple as that. But we can begin to take mitigation measures, such as carbon capture and storage, to reduce atmospheric carbon wherever it is safe to do so.
I'll conclude with a couple of comments from the committee's report. These two comments perhaps sum up where the committee came to at the end of its deliberations. By the way, the committee did recommend that this legislation go through the parliament. The committee states at point 2.72:
The other comment is at 2.74:
The Committee considered that the evidence about the environmental benefits was convincing and that any impacts should be able to be addressed through the current and proposed regulatory environment.
Again, the committee had the opportunity, which perhaps not all members of this place have had, to listen to some of what I believe are Australia's leading experts, both in government sectors and even across the private sector and our universities, who appeared before the committee, gave their evidence and effectively said, 'Yes, it's a process that needs to be managed properly, but it can be an effective way of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide and helping with the challenge we all have in terms of minimising the effects of climate change.' With those comments, I commend the legislation to the House.